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U.S. brings several gold medalists to South Africa

Russia closes in on overall medal count

Amanda Dobbs (left) and Richard Dornbush (right), with coach Tammy Gambill, look to repeat their success from last month's JGP Mexico.
Amanda Dobbs (left) and Richard Dornbush (right), with coach Tammy Gambill, look to repeat their success from last month's JGP Mexico. (Janis Engel)

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By Becca Staed, special to icenetwork.com
(10/08/2008) - Heading into the JGP South Africa, the United States continues to lead the overall medal count in the 2008 JGP Series with 18 medals. However, Russia closed the gap at last week's event in Belarus, from which the U.S. left empty-handed. Russia's three medals in Gomel gave it 16 overall. Japan sits in third with seven medals.

The U.S. hopes to regroup in Cape Town though. Four gold medalists from this season's JGP Series make up the U.S. squad in South Africa.

LADIES

The ladies field in Cape Town is stacked, and it would seem that podium spots are up for grabs.

Reigning U.S. junior ladies champion Alexe Gilles will compete in her second JGP event of the season, looking to turn her silver from the JGP Mexico into gold. Last season, Gilles finished second at the JGP stop in Lake Placid, N.Y., and sixth at the JGP Final in Gdansk, Poland. Considerable attention will also be on Gilles' U.S. teammate, Amanda Dobbs, who beat Gilles for gold this year in Mexico, her first-ever JGP event. Dobbs also won the bronze medal at the 2008 AEGON Challenge Cup as a junior.

The Americans' main rivals are Japan's Rumi Suizu and Germany's Sarah Hecken. Suizu has won five medals in her four years on the JGP circuit, including a pair of bronzes last season and two silvers, the second of which came at last month's event in Italy. She was fifth at the 2007 World Junior Championships. In her two years on the JGP track, Hecken has also won five medals, including a gold at the JGP Germany in 2007 and a bronze this year in Italy.

Other skaters who could vie for a medal are Sonia LaFuente of Spain and Joshi Helgesson of Sweden. LaFuente became her country's first skater to medal at a JGP event when she won silver in 2006 at the JGP Mexico. She took bronze last year at the JGP Great Britain. Helgesson came in seventh at the 2008 World Junior Championships.

MEN

American Richard Dornbush will look to set the bar for the men in Cape Town. In September, Dornbush, who is competing in his second JGP Series, grabbed gold at the JGP Mexico. He claimed his first international junior title at the 2007 Gardena Spring Trophy in Italy.

Dornbush will face tough competition from reigning Russian junior champion Ivan Bariev, who has collected three silver medals in his two years on the JGP circuit, including one at this year's JGP Czech Republic. He also finished seventh at the 2008 World Junior Championships. Not to be overlooked is Elladj Baldé of Canada, who, after three years on the JGP circuit, earned his first JGP medal (silver) this year in Mexico. He is the reigning Canadian junior champion.

Other top contenders in the men's field include American Andrew Gonzales and Russian Nikita Mikhailov. Making his JGP debut this year, Gonzales finished fourth in Mexico in September. He also won the 2008 AEGON Challenge Cup in The Hague, Netherlands, as a junior. Mikhailov finished fourth this year at the JGP Italy and won the silver medal at the 2007 Coupe de Nice.

ICE DANCING

U.S. ice dancing duo Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell take the ice in Cape Town with hopes of adding a fourth gold medal to their collection. The brother-and-sister team won gold at the 2007 JGP Final in Sofia, Bulgaria, and, after a year off, returned this season just as strong. They struck gold at their first JGP event this year, in Mexico. They are the reigning U.S. junior ice dancing champions and finished fifth at the 2008 World Junior Championships. Their main challenge will come from Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin of Russia. The team placed fifth this year at their first JGP stop, in Ostrava, Czech Republic. They came away from last year's JGP tour with a pair of bronze medals.

The newly formed American ice dancing team of Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue experienced notable success this season at their first-ever international event together, claiming gold at the JGP Czech Republic. In their third go-around on the JGP circuit, Russian couple Marina Antipova and Artem Kudashev will try for their first JGP medal. The team finished seventh in 2007 at the JGP Bulgaria and eighth in 2006 at the JGP France.